Michael Belmore. Delineated Territories, 2012. Copper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Material Wealth: Revealing Landscape

Sonny Assu, Michael Belmore, Lauren Blakey, Rebecca Horwitz, Ursula A. Johnson, Taliaferro Jones, Michelle Mendlowitz, Silvia Taylor

July 20–September 23, 2012

Curated by Melanie Egan


One of the most interesting aspects about materials (glass, ceramics, textiles, metal etc.) is their ability to act as catalysts for conceptual ideas. Ideas about landscape have prompted a viewing of material from a different perspective, isolating elements within the landscape and focusing in exploring the material’s meaning and its trajectory across culture and geography.

Part of the 2012 Planet IndigenUs Festival, a co-production with the Woodland Cultural Centre (August 10-19)


Sonny Assu

Four years ago, I stumbled upon the site of a log-home developer on the traditional territory of the We Wai Kai Nation, my reserve on northeastern Vancouver Island. I found it comical that my nation leased a plot of land, on un-ceded territory, to a company that exploits our resources to assemble log homes to be shipped off to the wealthy around the world.

While exploring the piles of discarded wood, I discovered a unique by-product of this industry: off-cuts that looked remarkably like pre-fabricated Northwest Coast masks. Left to be reclaimed by the earth or chipped up into cat litter, they are considered worthless by the developer and the consumer.

These “masks” have an inherent beauty – the poetics of a chainsaw paired with centuries-old growth rings reveal the wisdom of these once majestic cedar trees. Each one has a face and story within – and therefore also an inherent wealth. The felling of the rainforest enables us to display wealth in the form of luxury vacation homes, but we often give little thought to the waste produced by such affluence.

Historically, dominant cultures and ruling authorities have taken it upon themselves to preserve artifacts from perceived lesser societies, displaying the objects in galleries as a sign of their own wealth and authority. Today, we show our prosperity by accumulating posh, inanimate objects. And perhaps subconsciously we display the waste from this consumption (water bottles, disposable coffee cups, product packaging) as further markers of wealth. Longing is my commentary on what these waste products could have been. The display of these discarded objects, using museum-quality mask mounts, assigns wealth in an artistic and anthropological sense. Through this work I challenge the institutions to collect remnants of our consumption culture.

–Sonny Assu

Sonny Assu is Laich-kwil-tach (Kwakwaka’wakw) of the We Wei Kai First Nation. He graduated from Emily Carr University in 2002. Assu’s work has been featured in several group shows over the past years, notably Don’t Stop Me Now! and Comic Relief at the National Gallery of Canada, How Soon is Now?, at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and Changing Hands: Art With Reservation Part 2 at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. His work has been accepted into the National Gallery of Canada, the Seattle Art Museum, the Museum of Anthropology at UBC and in various other public and private collections across Canada and the United States. Assu was long listed for the 2012 Sobey Award.


Michael Belmore

The parties of the second part further promise and agree that they will not sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of any portion of their reservations without the consent of the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs being first had and obtained; nor will they at any time hinder or prevent persons from exploring or searching for mineral or other valuable productions in any part of the territory hereby ceded to Her Majesty as before mentioned.

–Citation from Robinson Superior Treaty 1850

Michael Belmore is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and graduated with an A.O.C.A. in sculpture/installation from Ontario College of Art in 1994. Belmore’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is represented in the permanent collections of various institutions and numerous private collections. His most recent exhibitions include Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art at the Peabody Essex in Salem, MA, Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, an international exhibition of contemporary Indigenous art in Winnipeg, MB and HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor at the National Museum of the American Indian – George Gustav Heye Centre in New York.

Lauren Blakey

I am seeking to create visual representations that convey the juxtapositions found in our natural world; ideas of growth and decay, strength and fragility. The surfaces of moss, lichens and algae exemplify these concepts in particular, as they are surfaces that have become blemished and worn over time exposing sediment, the past and growth. These geologically inspired formations strive to embody a sense of time, so that the pieces themselves, crumbling and in decay, may be perceived to take part in this symbiotic cycle found in nature. I see this current work as particularized studies, dug up from the earth or sea. These objects feel like unearthed relics or remains; the surviving traces that speak of our past.

–Lauren Blakey

Toronto based artist Lauren Blakey first studied at Sheridan College then completed her undergraduate studies in 2008 at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Blakey’s ceramic work occupies an interesting ground within the medium. She does not define her work by typical standards of sculpture or functionality. Rather, she finds meaning in the materiality and sensuality of her particular media. She is inspired by the natural world, resulting in a powerful recitation of nature and biology throughout her work.

Rebecca Horwitz

My work as a maker is a combination of hand stitching and embellishment; I design one-of-a-kind three-dimensional sculptural jewellery pieces. They are functional, wearable items, objects to be displayed, and forms and textures to be examined.

I have spent time in Central and South America as well as parts of Europe and am deeply inspired by people and places. I cherish and crave travelling while finding comfort in returning home. I am captivated by the organic qualities in landscapes and the grand displays of kindness I see wherever I am. All of these multi-sensory experiences have helped me gain knowledge and deep meaning.

By using hand-stitching and materials such as raffia, seeds, resin, wire, wood, vinyl, and masking tape, I create diverse textures with an eclectic tactile quality that inspires me through colour, shape and consistency. My work represents the future, and the past, the wild and the domesticated, all of which ultimately leads me to where I am right now.

–Rebecca Horwitz

Rebecca Horwitz was born and raised in Ottawa, by parents who strongly believed that seeing the world from ground level was a necessity. Horwitz attended Carleton University before being encouraged to pursue more creative paths, ultimately leading her to the Craft and Design – Textiles program at the Sheridan Institute. While there she was able to travel to Central and South America as well as parts of Europe. These experiences formed the aesthetic basis for her work. Since graduating from Sheridan, Horwitz has worked a variety of contract design and textile jobs and will be attending the Material Art and Design program at OCAD University in the fall.


Ursula A. Johnson

“…Over the last 25 years, the urban Aboriginal population in Canada has been growing steadily.  In some cases, particularly in the larger cities, the Aboriginal population has more than doubled.  For example, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Aboriginal population reached nearly 68,000 or 10% of the population – more than four times higher than it was 25 years earlier.

This rapid rate of growth can be attributed to a number of common demographic factors, such as: fertility, mobility and migration…”

–Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada

Migration was created in 2010 and first exhibited with various O’pltek (It Is Not Right) forms at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Upon creating these “Urban Aboriginal Migrant Creatures” Johnson wanted to see more than the initial group of 12, she wanted these forms to convey the movement they represented.

Ursula A. Johnson holds a BFA (2006) from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She descends from a long line of Mi’kmaw Artists, including her late Great Grandmother, Caroline Gould, from whom she learned traditional Mi’kmaw basketry. In 2010 she curated Klokowej: A 30-Year Retrospective commemorating Gould’s contribution to the evolution of Mi’kmaw basketry.

Ursula’s approach to basketry is typical of her transformational practice. Rather than simply imitating traditional Mi’kmaw basket forms she uses traditional techniques to build subtly non-functional forms – objects that are clearly traditionally based yet raised to a metaphorical level of signification, as works of art.

Taliaferro Jones

My current body of work uses water as a metaphor to illustrate the ever-present alchemy of our existence. Water is the essence of life. When I dive into any body of water I immediately have an intense and profound sense of joy and wonder. In its duality, water is extremely powerful – crashing and yet, also calming; we cannot live without it. The work explores the different states of being within water. It touches on how we flow through our lives striving for a state of grace and beauty. Like our blue planet, our bodies are 70% water, yet we still have a need to ground ourselves; the paradox of standing still while always flowing. In many ways we are between states, part spirit and part matter, part liquid and part solid. I sought to use the lyrical dance of light, space and colour to explore and manifest these ideas in glass and photography.

–Taliaferro Jones

Taliaferro Jones holds a BA and BFA from Tufts University and the Museum School, Boston, followed by Sheridan College. She exhibits internationally, including recent biennales in Spain, the Netherlands and South Korea. She has done large-scale commissions in London, California, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Her work is included in the Canadiana Fund collection at Rideau Hall and El Museo de Vidrio in Spain. She has been featured by Bravo and TVO as well as in the following books: International Glass Art, The Contemporary Glass Art of the World, Craft of Northern California and Golf 365 Days. She is a founding member of the Cadence collective. She also currently sits on the board of the Ontario Crafts Council and is helping to develop a new foundation/Museum for contemporary art in Spain.


Michelle Mendlowitz

My work consists of both functional and sculptural objects and often falls in a space between these opposing ends of the ceramic spectrum. As an artist, I am intrigued by layers. As a maker, process plays an important role in my work. Each working stage in a piece brings a new layer; with each action marking itself in the finished result. The forms I create are derived from landscapes and borrowed elements from nature, architecture and the human form. In this work I am pushing further away from the vessel, into a more formal exploration.

–Michelle Mendlowitz

Michelle Mendlowitz is a Toronto-based ceramic artist who completed her Bachelor of Design at the Ontario College of Art & Design. Since graduating in 2005, she has continued a studio practice, participating in several exhibitions and teaching both out of her studio and at the Koffler Centre for the Arts.

Silvia Taylor

My objective is to evoke the spirit of ancient eras and natural realms through the use of sculptural forms. I am infatuated with psychology and eastern philosophy. Through this fascination, I have been led to believe that perhaps the most ancient and challenging part of life is to attain self-awareness and find our true, unique paths to fulfillment. Working intuitively, I refer to ancient tools to create metaphorical devices that might help in the process of finding balance, centre and direction along our individually carved journeys.

–Silvia Taylor

Silvia Taylor is a recent graduate of Sheridan’s Crafts and Design programme. She was a Summer Resident at Harbourfront Centre in 2010. She is currently a resident and teaching assistant at Blown Away Glass Studio in Elora, as well as a teaching assistant for the glass programme at Sheridan College. Taylor was recently awarded generous grants from both the Ontario Crafts Council and the Glass Art Association of Canada.